In the ninth month of Russia’s war against Ukraine, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the Russian army is being gradually overtaken by “shell hunger.” This should be expected based on earlier analyzes made in August 2022 (see EDM, August 16, 18) and has been partly confirmed by Estonian intelligence data (Err.ee, November 25), as well as analysis from the United States regarding Moscow’s purchase of artillery ammunition from North Korea (Aa.com, November 11).
Overall. critical logistical difficulties continue to plague the Trans-Siberian and Baikal-Amur railways. Thus, we can observe an exhaustion in capacity due to the redirection of supply flows eastward, which is leading to serious economic problems (RBC, November 2). Therefore, we should not exhaust ourselves discussing the possibility of a steady flow of ammunition from North Korea.
Meanwhile, arms deliveries from Iran to Russia have been much more stable than from any other source. In addition to the Shahed-136 drones, we can observe Russian soldiers using other pieces of Iranian equipment on the battlefield (T.me/TyskNIP, November 18). With Moscow granting access for Iranian ships to pass through the Volga-Don Canal, we should expect an increase in the supply of Iranian-made ammunition to the Russian side (see EDM, November 14).
At the same time, Belarus is actively considering the possibility of debugging the production of components for 152-millimeter (mm) and 122-mm caliber shells on its territory and switching to a closed cycle of ammunition production in the future. However, the possibility of organizing such a massive technological process for collecting 122-mm, 220-mm and 300-mm caliber rockets from imported components still needs some clarification.
In this regard, from November 20 to 23. a Belarusian delegation visited Iran for a discussion on future cooperation, primarily in defense production. The list of issues discussed with the Iranian side included talks on the defense industry’s entire production cycle—touching on everything from the technology of steel smelting for ammunition components to the coloring of shells and containers used in their packaging (T.me/DIUkraine, November 17).
The growing Belarusian-Russian military-industrial complex has also put the Byelorussian Steel Works and other Belarusian enterprises in difficult positions with the proliferation of orders related to military products. These tasks were received through the Belarusian Ministry of Industry, but curators from the Ministry of Defense have been appointed to oversee these enterprises. As such, Minsk designated:
- Mogilev Metallurgical Works for establishing the production of reinforced cardan shafts with strong mine protection;
- BSW Research Center (BSW) for testing the steel for armor plates and creating sample armor plates for equipment and the production of bulletproof vests;
- Minsk Bearing Plant for expanding the brands of high-loaded bearings;
- BSW for creating guides for Grad launchers and barrels for mortars.
BSW has also been appointed as primarily responsible for arranging the production of guides for the Uragan 220-mm Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). Here, however, a serious conflict arises: BSW can handle a maximum diameter of 200 mm, and the Ministry of Defense has asked for a 220-mm pipe. Thus, BSW does not have the technical capacity to fulfill this order, but the task remains unconditionally set for BSW nonetheless (T.me/nicolai_khalezin, November 16).
These arrangements highlight the dire nature of Russia’s munition stocks, which have been difficult to accurately trace since 2014. Following 2014, all annual data on ammunition stocks in Russia has been greatly inflated. Therefore, it would be naive to look for information on the volume of their production in the public domain. Nevertheless, some assumptions can be made based on the financial data of the defense industry enterprises that produce certain munitions and special chemicals. Recently, this data was classified by Moscow, but we can still find information up until 2016 inclusive, which allows for some initial observations (Realnoevremya.ru, February 21, 2017).
Here is a table displaying data on revenues (in rubles) for 2014–2016 of the largest Russian defense enterprises, which also indicates their specializations:
Referring to the table, the main enterprises producing the ammunition we are most interested in are:
- Scientific and Production Association for MLRS shells,
- Plastmass Plant for artillery shells,
- Research Machine-Building Institute mainly for tank and naval shells, as well as the development and production of 152-mm shells in the near future (Promweekly.ru, accessed November 30).
All three of these enterprises are holdings of Rostec and leaders in Russia’s ammunition production industry. They are actively seeking to develop stronger investment programs and increase their production capacities. It is possible that the production of a similar range of ammunition was mastered at other Russian enterprises, in particular, at the Verkhne-Udinsk Mechanical Plant, also part of Rostec. However, the significant expansion of production at this plant did not occur until 2022, therefore, as of 2016, it could not have produced these munitions on a massive scale, as evidenced by the huge gap in revenue for the three industry leaders. In addition, it is likely that the Verkhne-Udinsk plant only produced shell casings, which were then equipped at the other main manufacturing plants (TASS, January 26).
How much ammunition could these enterprises have realistically produced in 2014–2021? Here, certain assumptions can be made based on the average cost of a single unit of ammunition. Since such data is not publicly available, we must rely on information available for the cost of ammunition as of January 1, 2005 (Vif2ne.org, December 29, 2012). The table below displays the relative price (in rubles) for producing selected munitions. To bring these prices in line with the accurate rates for the period from 2014 to 2016, for which the financial data of Russian arms manufacturers are available, the official inflation index for the Russian Federation was used.
Compared to the current Russian market price for ammunition (up to $2,000–$3,000 dollars for a 152-mm shell and up to $1,000 for a 122-mm MLRS shell), the results here appear to severely underestimate some values (especially for the Grad MLRS). However, within the framework of the Russian state defense order, pricing principles and requirements differ based on the level of profitability. Therefore, for the purposes of this analysis, we will focus on the presented data.
Initially, the table reveals a stark growth in the unit price for producing critical munitions in Russia. As such, a more thorough analysis will be completed on each part of this apparatus to reveal how these fluctuations in cost continue to plague the Russian defense industry. For now, it is quite apparent that, if Moscow hopes to sustain a similar level of activity in Ukraine moving forward, Russian arms production facilities need to be exhaustively re-evaluated.
By the Jamestown Foundation
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